By Kate Brouse—Strategic Partnerships Lead at NTI
This month, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability—turns 31. Last month, U.S. nonprofit National Telecommuting Institute (NTI)—the leader in helping Americans with disabilities find at-home jobs—turned 26. For the better part of three decades, inclusion of the disability community has been mandated in this country and remote jobs have been available. However, it took a worldwide pandemic for companies to fully embrace the fact that remote work is not only possible, but in many cases even preferable. The needle has moved in the right direction and the workforce of the future will be more inclusive as a result.
The benefits of inclusion have been increasingly studied and realized. Disability rights attorney and former Connecticut state senator, Ted Kennedy, Jr., who lost a leg to bone cancer, said, “Persons with disabilities present business and industry with unique opportunities in labor-force diversity and corporate culture. Leading companies are accelerating disability inclusion.”
The reason for this acceleration is two-fold: 1) Research bears out the fact that companies with a focus on disability inclusion outperform their competitors (See the “Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage” report produced jointly by AAPD and Disability:IN); and 2) the current labor shortage means companies are turning to previously underserved communities, including people with disabilities, to fill job openings.
For members of the disability community who want to work, the time has never been better to seek employment. However, some people with disabilities still struggle to find jobs because they lack work experience or have gaps in their resumes. Many of them are turning to NTI to find the support they need. NTI offers free job services to the disability community and to their family caretakers. For 26 years, NTI has worked to educate Fortune 500 companies about the benefits of hiring Americans with disabilities for remote customer service jobs. Now, thanks to the pandemic, more companies are hearing the message.
Over the years, NTI has found that some people within the disability community can be uniquely suited to careers in customer service for three reasons. Obviously, every person is unique and every disability is different, but there are some generalities that when put together can help people understand if a career in customer service is a good fit.
First, people within the disability community often need to think creatively. Of necessity, they have learned to live in a world that was not designed to meet their needs. Whether making modifications to clothing or designing personalized wheelchair accessories, people with disabilities often create unique solutions, or hacks, that make everyday life easier for them. This outside-the-box thinking can make them good problem solvers, a great tool for customer service professionals.
Second, people with disabilities frequently become advocates for themselves and others with similar disabilities. Sadly, it is all too common for families and even doctors of people with disabilities to minimize and misunderstand their actual needs. To be heard and understood, people with disabilities often choose to research treatments, solutions and therapies themselves; they start and join support groups; and they use their experiences and knowledge to help others. This drive and ability to self-advocate and help others is another trait that can help people excel in customer service careers.
Finally, the experience of day-to-day living with a disability and all that comes with it—from mobility issues, diet restrictions or the need for daily injections to coping with depression, anxiety or PTSD—can increase empathy for others who find themselves in challenging situations. Empathy is known as a “soft skill” and many companies seek for employees who have the ability to treat others with empathy, especially those who will be in customer-facing positions.
The new acceptance of remote work, combined with the current labor shortage, means the outlook for people with disabilities who want to work is better than ever before. For those who are interested in customer service roles, NTI is a great resource that costs nothing. And for those who don’t need NTI’s services, but who still want a job, showcasing the unique skills they have as a person with a disability to a potential employer can work as an advantage. After all, those unique skills and abilities are what drive inclusive companies to have better business outcomes. As more companies realize the benefits of inclusion, employment of people with disabilities will continue to rise.
Kate Brouse is a disability advocate for national nonprofit NTI, the leader in helping Americans with disabilities train for and find work-at-home jobs. From coast-to-coast, Kate has appeared on talk shows, podcasts and webinars discussing remote work, accessibility, diversity and disability. When not working, she can be found around sunny southwest Florida, either bicycling or reading a book under her oak tree.